There was, to my ears, one discordant note in the awards ceremony for the US Open women’s tennis final. It came when Andrea Lisher, JP Morgan’s head of Americas, client – whatever on earth that job title is about – presented Emma Raducanu with a cheque for $2.5m (£1.8m).
This number was read out, loud and proud. I don’t recall Sue Barker ever presiding over any mention of money at Wimbledon. Until that moment, I don’t think anyone on this side of the Atlantic, nor our Emma, had given the prize money a second thought. It had all been about an apparently humble young woman – her mesmeric sporting excellence and a triumph for the ages.
We are a bit squeamish about the money stuff; it’s not very British to bang on about it. There is a time and a place, of course, but not right there and then. Sadly, though, it didn’t take us long to start banging on about the big bucks with the best of them. As early as Monday afternoon, I was listening to someone called Tess O’Sullivan on a Radio 4 news bulletin singing hosannas about the money to be made, every bit as loudly as the rest of us had been shouting from the rooftops about Raducanu’s staggering tennis. Fair enough, this is O’Sullivan’s line of work – and she must be good at it if she has, as was billed, brokered commercial deals for David Beckham and Usain Bolt.
This is what she said: “I think, quite quickly, her sponsorship earnings off the court will dwarf her prize money on the court. She is the most marketable British athlete since David Beckham, because she is the complete package: she’s young; she’s already winning millions of social media followers, which increases her influence as a brand; she has a multicultural background; and she won her grand slam in America, one of the most important consumer markets in the world.”
Dear God, is this what Raducanu must become: a brand? A brand, moreover, the purpose of which is to promote other brands? Never mind the glorious shots on the big points; this girl can shift product.
Already, I’m sure, her management will be fielding unrefusable offers to have her photo taken sporting, let’s say, an extraordinarily expensive watch. Why wouldn’t she do it? After all, one of the greatest tennis players of all time is among the many to have shown her the way. Roger Federer’s advert for the Rolex Perpetual asks: “How exactly do we measure greatness?” Helpfully, to assist us in figuring out this puzzler, an answer is suggested: “The number of grand slams?”
Ah yes, that would be it. Cheers. Wait, though, there is more: “Maybe, but not only …” the voiceover teases. What else could it be, pray? His personality? His work ethic? Mere numbers, it is explained, “won’t show that this man plays tennis more beautifully than anyone before.”
By now, my toes are curling beyond the point at which they can be straightened again. We know what is coming, don’t we? Brace yourselves: “Federer’s legacy will prove more perpetual [aaaaargh] than any number.”
The great man supplies a quote: “I wore it at the trophy shot when I won my 15th grand slam title, which was a record at the time.” Of Federer, I ask respectfully, so effing what? As for Raducanu, I hope the corporate warriors can leave her be for a while to fight her battles on the court. Matching the dizzying standards she has set herself won’t be easy; she has plenty of tennis to be getting on with. That way, we will all be able to enjoy the sight of her unalloyed, unexploited genius commanding the game for a while longer, with not a thought to what she is wearing on her wrist.
• Adrian Chiles is a Guardian columnist